The Jewish National Fund had planned to honor socially conservative, anti-gay preacher Charles Stanley this morning at a breakfast event in Atlanta — until Stanley backed out of the event amid growing public pressure from the LGBT community (Jewish and otherwise), who rightly pointed out that Stanley was a rather inappropriate choice.
In case you missed our earlier post about it, here’s some relevant background on why this guy is basically the worst:
Dr. Stanley has a sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions. He has publicly called AIDS God’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality and called homosexuality “destructive behavior.” He has incorrectly claimed that being gay is a choice and stated that “medical research has proven, absolutely unquestionably, that the person can be free from homosexuality if they want to.” He has said that “God does not agree with the lifestyle of the homosexual” and that accepting gay people is “an act of disobedience to God.” And at one time, acting on his convictions, Dr. Stanley hired armed guards on horseback to roam the streets in order to keep gay pride marchers away from his church and distant from his congregants.
On Tuesday morning, JNF announced:
Dr. Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta has informed Jewish National Fund that because of his deep love for Israel, and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community, he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast in Atlanta, this Thursday, April 23.
The breakfast did go ahead as scheduled, honoring “Yedidya Haroush, a representative of Halutza (Israel) with the Cantor Isaac and Betty Goodfriend Community Service Award.” (As an aside — the announcement elaborates on Haroush, saying that his “civilian community withstood repeated rocket attacks during Operation Protective Edge in order to protect Israel’s borders.” Which, uh… well, there’s a lot to unpack there. Like… did this guy get an award for performing the community service of living in a place that got hit by rockets? Or am I missing something here?)
Anyway, good job, everyone. Surely, this laudable outcome is a direct result of the national outcry from LGBT Jews and their allies. All evidence to the contrary, the Jewish community actually can accomplish good things when we screw our heads on right in the morning. So, yes, there is reason to celebrate. At the same time, I wonder whether we can really chalk this one up as a win for the good guys. And if so, what exactly was won?
The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN), the group that led the effort, certainly welcomed the news as a victory:
We are pleased with the news that Dr. Charles Stanley has informed the Southeastern Region of the Jewish National Fund that he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast on Thursday, April 23. We are grateful for the strong support of hundreds of rabbis, community leaders, and community members from around the country and in the Southeast. We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel.
After getting some perspective from a friend who is close to the situation, I’m not so sure. A pure victory would have looked like this: JNF disinvites Stanley and publically says they were wrong to invite him in the first place. However, as things turned out, it looks like Stanley pulled out of his own volition — i.e. not at JNF’s urging. If that’s the case, then, sure, there was a minor PR battle won here. But it wasn’t even won against the right foe! As far as I can tell, JNF learned no lesson. They neither admitted to nor apologized to anyone for anything. Meanwhile, Stanley decided to pull out to avoid bad PR — not because of some genuine moral victory.
According to my friend (who has asked to go unnamed here because of close communal ties to the issue), the communications SOJOURN received from JNF — and JNF’s responses to those who called them directly — were rude and condescending. “The responses of local JNF staff and lay leaders were borderline absurd and even offensive, which amounted to little more than treating this issue as a nuisance,” my friend said.
So, did the good guys win here? Hard to say.
And even if the good guys did win: Was their message heard? Sure, they were loud enough to get Stanley to back down. But I suspect all JNF heard was the noise — and none of the meaning. The victory would certainly be clearer if JNF had cancelled on Stanley instead of the other way around.
In any case, if you’re in the Atlanta area and feel like beating your head against a wall, there is a community meeting with local JNF staff and JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson scheduled for May 8 (further details TBA). I’m sure it’ll be an interesting meeting. If you attend, let us know how that turns out for you.